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September 30, 2010
He's 5-foot-8, 176-pounds, and is playing opposite an All-American candidate. Because of this, senior defensive back Lamar Chapman seemed a likely candidate to fly under the radar going into 2010, despite having started four games in 2009, finishing with 46 tackles, six pass breakups and two interceptions.
Despite all appearances and circumstances, Chapman's emergence is no surprise to the Utes, least of all to defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake. "Guys have just always kind of looked past him, because of his size. But if you're out here with him on the field every day, you understand his toughness, all of the things he does. You understand why we're totally comfortable putting him up against some of the best receivers," Sitake said. "We put him up against big receivers, smaller, quicker guys, even tight ends. Whatever we ask him to do, he's up to the task. We have that kind of confidence in him."
Sitake had built a relationship with Chapman dating back to his prep days at Compton (Calif.) High School and followed him throughout his time at El Camino Community College. Sitake was impressed with Chapman's ability on the field, but to this day, Sitake is most impressed with Chapman's character. "It's been great for me to be able to recruit him, to be able to get to know him, on a personal level," Sitake said. "More than anything he's a great young man. More than a football player, he's just a great person."
Chapman admitted that wasn't always the case, however. Growing up in the notorious neighborhood of Compton, just outside of Los Angeles, he admits getting caught up in a rough lifestyle. As a result, Chapman's focus was not on academics or school, ultimately landing him at El Camino Community College. In 2006, his first year at El Camino, Chapman's 16-year old brother died, the victim of a violent crime. In an attempt to deal with the loss of younger brother Raymar, through football, Chapman's focus began to shift, and he began to think of a future and life outside of Compton.
Coach Sitake played a key role in Chapman's realization that he could potentially play at the next level, offering him a scholarship to the University of Utah very early on in his freshman year at the So-Cal junior college. With the significant redirection and renewed passion, Chapman thrived, earning 2006 Old Spice Player of the Year honors, along with all-conference honors in both seasons at El Camino Community College, as well as being named to the JC Gridwire first-team All-American first team in 2007.
"It didn't really hit me, I didn't really realize that I could maybe play at the next level until my first year of junior college," Chapman explained. "Kalani offered me really early in my freshman year [at El Camino], and so I committed very early."
Chapman's recruitment heated up as his junior college career continued on, having offers from every Mountain West school, with the exception of BYU. Chapman also held offers from Kansas State, Arizona, and Arizona State. While ultimately staying loyal to Sitake and the Utes, Chapman never really seriously considered his other offers until very late in the recruiting process when Arizona State put on a last-minute full-court-press, offering him two days before signing day.
Chapman cites a strong loyalty to coach Sitake, one of the very first coaches to start recruiting him, as the primary reason for choosing the Utes over the Sun Devils. Interestingly enough, however, Chapman also actively chose the Utes' Mountain West Conference over the Pac-10, something that many pundits deemed undesirable. For Chapman, however, it made all the sense in the world.
"I liked that the conference really threw the ball a lot. I'm a little corner, so I didn't want to be in a run-heavy offense like the ones you see a lot in the Pac-10 or Big 12," Chapman explained. "Over here, they throw the ball a lot and I get my opportunity to cover, and get my interceptions. That was the way I knew I could open some eyes."
Once a Ute, Chapman explains that he got a real wake up call, not realizing the kind of work that would be required of him with his new team. To that end, Chapman was grateful for, and took full advantage of his redshirt year. Both Chapman and coach Sitake herald the merits of taking a redshirt year, when available. "The redshirt program here is going to make a man out of you, it's tough. Reality hit me, it really hit me and I understood that I had to put in the work and do this in order to get playing time," Chapman said. "The redshirt process up here gets you ready mentally and physically to play."
Defensive coordinator Kilani Sitake agrees. "We've been fortunate enough to be able to really evaluate talent, to establish some depth in the program. That makes all the difference in the world for us to be able to take a year, the redshirt, and develop these guys," Sitake explained. "Without that depth, you sometimes have to rush these guys along and you wish you didn't have to, you wish you had them for another year. So we've been able to do that with [Lamar] and even with [Conroy] Black and it has really paid off with both of them."
Chapman expanded on the redshirt "process," a term often used within the Utah program. In addition to the obvious activities such as studying and learning the offensive/defensive playbook, the redshirt process also entails a series of physical challenges. "Like I said, it will definitely make a man out of you. The stuff they put you through, it's a little bit like a strongman competition that you see on TV. It's a series of skill challenges you have to go through," he explained. "Then after that, it's a process of working your way up through the scout team, getting ready and putting in the work it takes to get on the field."
All of Chapman's work is paying off, as he is third on the team in total tackles with 27, including team-high 19 unassisted tackles. Chapman also leads the team in tackles-for-loss (5) and sacks (3.5). Chapman is beginning to garner both local and national media attention, and more importantly, a quiet reputation as an all around corner. "I think he's one of the best corners in the conference, if not the country as far as lock-down coverage. He's just quick and he's tough, and he's a competitor. He's one of the toughest guys on our team," Sitake said.
Now that Chapman has earned his time on the field, he appreciates, perhaps more than anyone, what is special about playing football at the University of Utah, or rather, being a part of that family. "It starts with [Coach Kyle Whittingham] Whit. He is definitely family-oriented. He likes to say all the time that we are the most diverse team in the nation, and that's true. So we're all together, there's no stars, no selfishness, its just family," Chapman said. "The thing about this team is the redshirts, the walk-ons, the starters, the stars, everybody gets treated the same way here. Everybody's equal."
For Chapman, there are so many positives, beyond the football field that he looks to take with him after his time as a Utah football players. For him, what sets this program apart is the coaching staff, but Kyle Whittingham in particular. "For me, it's the man that coach Whit is. He's the closest to perfect you can get, and he won't take anything less than that. That's what he gives and what he expects," Chapman said. "For me, that's a good way to go about coaching, because that's how it is, in life, in corporate America. Expectations are high, demands are high, and so he's preparing us. Because of that, the kind of man he is makes me want to go out and play my hardest for him."
While Chapman clearly has all the physical tools to be a great football player, what sets him apart more than the competitor and teammate that he is, the toughness he is notorious for team-wide, is his passion, drive and desire to give back. "This program gave me so much. It has given me a lot. I'm one class away from getting my degree. They took me out of the situation I was in. They took me out of Compton and that setting," Chapman explains. "I don't know where I'd be if coach Whit, coach Sitake and the University of Utah didn't give me this opportunity. So every time I go out there, I'm so grateful. I play for coach Whit and for this university, who gave me this opportunity."
While Chapman's star grows brighter in the world of college football and with so much pressure and so much to play for, he seeks solace in the simple things like movies. An admitted movie nut, Chapman admits that he makes it a point to see at least one movie a week. Whether an escape or just a chance to clear his head, Chapman says he is not picky, as long as he gets to his mandatory one movie per week. "I'm simple. I'll go to movies once a week, even if there's nothing new out. I'll usually watch the same movies over and over, as long as I get out to see one just about every week. That's something I try to do," he said.
Although Chapman aspires to an NFL career, he is well-equipped for life outside of football and has plans with or without the NFL to work with children. His goal is to put his degree in Human Development to good use back home, where he hopes to open up sports-focused camps or daycare facilities where children can gain confidence and hope for a future and a life outside of Compton. "I just want to let [the children] know that there's hope for getting out of Compton. That is a place where, I think, no kid should grow up in."